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History of the DIN typefaces

From round tipped pen and flat brush letters to the standart typeface.

At the end of the 19th century, mobility and freight volumes increased due to the expansion of railroad networks and advances in steam engine technology. The use of freehand lettering and stencils with traditional Roman design for marking freight was common in Germany. For permanent marking of technical things, such as rail vehicles, a certain uniformity and clarity of the marking was emphasized. Inexpensive lettering stencils, as would have been possible with stencil cutting machines, were not yet available. The first stencil machines had just been developed in the USA by Andrew Jackson Bradley in 1893. In order for the average sign painter to apply lettering quickly and evenly, lettering forms had to be simplified.

At the same time, efforts were being made in Germany to improve childrens' handwriting by using a new type of round nib pen. This nib had no point, but a flat, round disc at the end of the nib. This made it very easy to write with a evenly wide stroke. The typeface was based on unconnected letters written in blocks on a grid. The new typeface was stripped of all unnecessary curves and ornaments. The three largest writing instrument manufacturers in Germany (Soennecken, Brause, and Heintze & Blanckertz) promoted this new writing style and produced the nibs and instructional materials for it.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the teacher Georg Bahr developed stencils (German patent 1909, US Patent 1022484 1912) for technical draftsmen, which made it even easier to draw this type cleanly. These stencils were marketed by Filler & Fiebig as the "Bahrsche Normograph" and later developed into the Standardgraph with great success.

  1. image: Writing System by Friedrich Soennecken, 1887
  2. image: Georg Bahr, Normogrph Stencil Tool, 1909
  3. image: Georg Bahr, Normogrph Stencil Tool, usage illustration
  4. image: Standardgraph Stencil Tool for DIN 1451 type

Specifications for Writing, Drawing and Marking

Against this background, a type was developed for technical markings that could be applied quickly and easily with a flat brush. It was easy to write with a round nib and could also be milled into a workpiece with a drill. This typeface, a condensed design (DIN Engschrift, Condensed), was defined for the first time as a standard (Blatt IV 44) in 1897 by the Royal Prussian Railway Administration (Königlich Preussische Eisenbahn-Verwaltung, KPEV) for the lettering of rail vehicles.

In Germany, the Normenausschuss der Deutschen Deutschen Industrie - DIN (Standards Committee of German Industry) was founded in 1916. The committee soon saw the need to standardize and unify the way drawings were lettered. In 1919, DIN 16 was published, the first standard typeface for drawings. It resembled handwritten block letters rather than a geometric design. Later, DIN 16 was revised and re-drawn to be aligned with DIN 1451.

In 1926, the "Normenausschuss für das graphische Gewerbe" (Standards Committee for the Graphics Industry) proposed that in future every print office should be equipped with a standardized typeface, preferably a grotesque. At the same time, the "Type Committee" was founded. Under the chairmanship of Siemens engineer Ludwig Goller, this committee proposed in 1927 to define an harmonized set of typefaces. All possible areas (printing, engraving, handwriting, and stenciling) should be covered. This set of typefaces would be published as DIN 1451. However, it took several more years before DIN 1451 was finally adopted as an official standard in 1936.

The latest version of the DIN 1451 standard, in terms of typeface specs, is from 1986/1987. Now, only specifications for "Engschrift" (Condensed typeface) and "Mittelschrift" (medium or default typeface) are specified. The "Breitschrift" (wide typeface) and the specifications for "Schablonenschrift A" stencil versions have been overridden and removed.

Type design wise, the lowercase letter a has been revised and is now drawn without the small end stroke at the bottom right. In the numerals, the round arcs at 6 and 9 have been replaced by diagonal strokes. However, in many applications, the older form of the 6 and 9 is still used today.

  1. image: Blueprint: Blatt IV 44, Prussian Railways, edition 4, 1912
  2. image: DIN 16, lettering template
  3. image: DIN 1451, Seite 3, Engschrift, 1986
  4. image: DIN 1451, Seite 3, Mittelschrift, 1986
  5. image: DIN 1451, Beiblatt 6, Schablonenschrift A, 1943
  6. image:DIN 1451, design change, revision 1986/87
Blatt IV 44, Prussian Railways, edition 4, 1912

Blueprint: Blatt IV 44, Prussian Railways, edition 4, 1912

Usage Today

Nowadays, DIN fonts and their derivatives are popular all over the world. There are variants that are optimized for body copy text and, of course, the typefaces are also used quite classically for markings and signage such as highway signs. The formal aesthetics of these forms has triggered many other typeface developments and continues to influence them to this day.


  • FF DIN Round, digitale block letters, by Albert-Jan Pool, published by 2010 Fontshop
  • DIN 1451, Beuth Verlag, 1986